Clean athletes still wait­ing for prize money from dop­ers

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Seven years af­ter the race of her life at the world track and field cham­pi­onships, Olive Lough­nane is still wait­ing for her prize money.

That’s be­cause the first wo­man across the fin­ish line in the 20-kilo­me­ter walk in Berlin in 2009 wasn’t the Ir­ish ath­lete. It was Rus­sia’s Olga Kaniskina, who was later banned for dop­ing but hasn’t re­turned the gold medal or the $30,000 in cash owed to Lough­nane.

“I’ve three young chil­dren,” Lough­nane said. “They will be go­ing to col­lege. It’s not an in­signif­i­cant amount. I didn’t earn any­where near the amount of money as an ath­lete that would al­low me to re­tire.”

Athletes who are beaten by doped com­peti­tors aren’t only robbed of a mo­ment on the top step of the podium as their na­tional an­them plays, they can also be de­prived of large sums of money. In the cases of four Russian and Be­laru­sian dop­ers who have not paid back prize money from events where they were later dis­qual­i­fied, The As­so­ci­ated Press has found that as much as $410,000 may be owed to dozens of athletes, with some debts go­ing back over a decade.

The prob­lem is ex­pected to in­ten­sify with the in­crease in retest­ing of medal win­ners’ sam­ples years af­ter the com­pe­ti­tion. About 100 athletes from var­i­ous sports have had their re­sults from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics an­nulled fol­low­ing new tests with im­proved tech­niques.

While the Olympics do not award prize money, dop­ing dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tions usu­ally trig­ger back­dated bans wip­ing out years of re­sults and earn­ings from past world cham­pi­onships and other events.

In track and field, the prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly se­ri­ous be­cause the sport’s world govern­ing body, the IAAF, in­sists it can only re­dis­tribute prize money if the ath­lete banned for dop­ing pays it back first. How­ever, the IAAF’s main weapon to com­pel dop­ers to pay back the money is an ex­ten­sion of their bans, which isn’t ef­fec­tive if the athletes plan to re­tire or have been banned for life.

In re­sponse to ques­tions from the AP, the IAAF would not con­firm how many doped athletes owe prize money or how much is owed in to­tal, or how it tries to re­cover the cash. How­ever, it said the is­sue was on the agenda as part of re­form talks set for the IAAF congress this week in Monaco.

“We are al­ready con­sult­ing the athletes commission and other mem­bers of the IAAF fam­ily on a vi­able sys­tem that would sat­isfy all par­ties. We are con­fi­dent that the changes and pro­pos­als we are com­pil­ing will be re­flected in the next IAAF Com­pe­ti­tion Rules,” the IAAF said in a state­ment.

Seven years af­ter her race against Kaniskina in Berlin, the long-sin­cere­tired Lough­nane now com­piles crime statis­tics for the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment. Mean­while, Kaniskina is work­ing as a sports of­fi­cial and may de­cide that, at the age of 31, it’s not worth pay­ing back her win­nings in or­der to race again, Rus­sia’s top walk­ing coach told Russian me­dia this month. Kaniskina earned around $135,000 in prize money at events where she was later dis­qual­i­fied.

“She hasn’t def­i­nitely ended her ca­reer. She’s still think­ing,” coach Niko­lai Lukashkin told the R-Sport agency, adding that was also the case with an­other top Russian walker, Sergei Kirdyap­kin, who is sup­posed to pay back a to­tal of at least $90,000 from nu­mer­ous wins at ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions af­ter he was banned in 2015.

For­mer se­nior IAAF lead­ers have been ac­cused of col­lud­ing with Russian of­fi­cials to cover up dop­ing or slow down cases, in­clud­ing those in­volv­ing Kaniskina and Kirdyap­kin. The IAAF banned its for­mer trea­surer and anti-dop­ing head in Jan­uary, as well as the son of for­mer IAAF Pres­i­dent Lamine Di­ack.

Cit­ing those find­ings, some athletes ar­gue the IAAF should make a one-time pay­ment to clear prize money debts as a ges­ture of good­will.

Den­mark’s Joachim Olsen told the AP he was still owed $10,000 from the 2006 world in­door cham­pi­onships, when he orig­i­nally won bronze in shot put but was up­graded to sil­ver when An­drei Mikhnevich of Be­larus failed a retest. How­ever, Mikhnevich is banned for life for two dop­ing of­fenses, so has noth­ing to gain from pay­ing back over $100,000 in prize money.

Like race walk­ing, Olsen’s event rarely at­tracts big en­dorse­ments, mak­ing prize money all the more im­por­tant.

“That’s a lot of money. Prize money was some­thing that I would save up. You could have a bad year, in­juries and stuff, so I used it as a kind of a backup. You didn’t make a lot of money, so I lived in a small apart­ment and tried to save up,” said Olsen, who since re­tire­ment in 2009 has be­come a mem­ber of the Dan­ish par­lia­ment and is sharply crit­i­cal of the IAAF’s ap­proach.

“For the in­di­vid­ual ath­lete that got cheated out of a medal and prize money, their con­cern doesn’t seem that big. It’s more of an im­age thing for the IAAF and not a con­cern for the in­di­vid­ual ath­lete that got cheated out of both a medal and prize money, and that’s a real shame,” he said. Oth­ers are con­sid­er­ing a law­suit. As well as a gold medal from the 2012 Lon­don Olympics, Tu­nisian 3,000-me­tre steeplechase run­ner Habiba Ghribi, is owed at least $38,000 from events in which she was beaten by Rus­sia’s Yu­lia Zaripova, who was later banned for dop­ing and dis­qual­i­fied.

“I took (the news) with a feel­ing of joy, be­cause these ti­tles are now in my legacy for life, but also with frus­tra­tion at hav­ing been de­prived of the op­por­tu­nity to climb the high­est stand on the podium, and to hear the na­tional an­them of my coun­try,” Ghribi told the AP.

Ghribi is threat­en­ing le­gal ac­tion to get the money, but isn’t cer­tain where to file a law­suit - against the Monaco-based IAAF, against Zaripova in Rus­sia or against the or­ga­niz­ers of meets held in Switzer­land, Swe­den and South Korea. The many ju­ris­dic­tions, com­bined with a lack of le­gal prece­dent, present a stern chal­lenge to athletes who want the prize money they are owed. The long time pe­ri­ods in­volved also mean some drug cheats have al­ready spent their win­nings.

“First of all you’re try­ing to fig­ure out where to file a le­gal ac­tion and then you’re try­ing to fig­ure out how to en­force it across mul­ti­ple ju­ris­dic­tions,” sports lawyer David W. Larkin told the AP. “The whole thing is an ab­so­lute night­mare.”

While few athletes are ea­ger to pick a le­gal fight with their sport’s govern­ing body, one strat­egy could be to pur­sue the IAAF for neg­li­gently fail­ing to bar doped athletes from com­pet­ing.

If the IAAF did re­cover prize money through the courts, its rules al­low it to sub­tract its le­gal costs from the sum that would be passed on to the right­ful medal­lists.

Ten years af­ter los­ing out on a sil­ver medal to Be­laru­sian drug cheat Mikhnevich, Olsen isn’t ex­pect­ing to be paid any time soon. He says the IAAF is let­ting clean athletes down.

“Even if I had won the lottery, and I had plenty of money, which I didn’t, it’s more of a prin­ci­ple,” he said. “They should pay the money to those that ac­tu­ally won it.”

FILE: In this Fri­day, July 17, 2015 file photo, Habiba Ghribi from Tu­nisia cel­e­brates win­ning the women’s 3,000m steeplechase at the Di­a­mond League Me­mo­rial Van Damme ath­let­ics event, at Brus­sels’ King Bau­douin sta­dium. Habiba Ghribi is owed at least $38,000 from events in which she was beaten by Rus­sia’s Yu­lia Zaripova Photo: AP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.